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Tuesday, November 28, 2000
Globetrotters lose to No. 5 Michigan State

The Harlem Globetrotters rarely finish a game without a "W" next to the final score. But after 1,270 consecutive victories, dating back to Sept. 12, 1995, the Globetrotters finally took a loss Monday night.

The team that is never supposed to lose faced some of its stiffest competition in nearly 40 years as the Trotters fell to fifth-ranked Michigan State, 72-68. It was the Globetrotters' first defeat to a collegiate team since 1962.

Brown, Tyrone
Tyrone Brown and the Harlem Globetrotters can play a little along with the tricks.

The team now will travel to West Lafayette, Ind., to take on the Purdue Boilermakers in Mackey Arena on Wednesday night.

What in the name of Meadowlark Lemon is going on here?

Since former Globetrotter Mannie Jackson bought the team in 1993, he has set his eyes on the forgotten past -- a past that includes scheduling serious competition and testing the legitimacy of the players who currently wear red, white and blue.

The team didn't always make its living with trick shots and gag routines. The Trotters twice defeated George Mikan's NBA champion Minneapolis Lakers in the late 1940s and played college teams until 1950.

"The Globetrotters are recognized as, without a doubt, one of the best barnstorming teams in the world," Jackson said. "When I took the team over in 1993, we had lost that competitive edge -- the ability to compete as a barnstorming team. I felt with the emergence of basketball all over the world and independent teams in this country that wanted to test their mettle against good pros, that there was a market again for barnstorming basketball."

So in 1997, 35 years after the Globetrotters played their last game against college competition, Jackson brought back the tradition.

Before the defeat Monday night, the Globetrotters didn't lose a game to a college under Jackson as they swept a three-game series against the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-Stars in May and squeaked by Metro State 76-69 on Friday.

The Globetrotters usually feature players like Michael "Wild Thing" Wilson, who played at the University of Memphis. He is known as the world record holder in the vertical slam dunk at 12 feet, 2 inches.

But for the serious play, the team had the help of the recent additions of forward Alex Sanders, who played at Louisville and scored 16 against the Spartans last year, and former Kentucky standout guard Wayne Turner, who set an NCAA record for the most games played throughout his career (151).

The Globetrotters' brand of basketball is just happy to be alive for its upcoming 75th anniversary tour. In the early '90s, the fun-loving Globetrotters almost became past tense. The team's holding company, which also owned the Ice Capades, filed for bankruptcy. Enter former Globetrotter and Honeywell Corp. executive Jackson, who quickly rounded up financing and bought the team for a bargain basement price of $5.5 million.

"It was probably the only property that the holding company had that was still above water, doing fairly well, but it was going down real fast," said Jackson, who had hope in a new generation of "Sweet Lou" Dunbars and Curly Neals.

Since Jackson's purchase, the barnstorming team is once again a fan favorite throughout the United States and the world. Last year, more than 2 million people came to see the Globetrotters, thanks to the two separate teams that played more than 200 games on their North American tour alone.

The key to Jackson's success is the balance between his commitment to the Globetrotter tradition and his innovation for the franchise's future. As far as honoring the team's past, he has always remembered the philosophy of founder Abe Saperstein, a hybrid of P.T. Barnum and Bill Veeck.

"Abe never forgot that audiences come out for a night out and come out to have a good time. And he thought that basketball and sports should be fun," said Jackson, who played with the team in the 1960s after a career at the University of Illinois. "He also felt that sports should connect with audiences, and so he made a special effort to make the team's performances and appearances a part of the fiber of those attending the games, whether it was here or outside the U.S."

Consistent with Jackson's old-school beliefs, a family of four can still attend a Globetrotters' game for less than $50.

Despite the apparent proliferation of professional basketball in the United States -- including the CBA, the IBL, the ABA 2000 and the NBA's NBDL -- Jackson said he doesn't feel like he's competing with anyone.

"I'd like to think that because of our longevity, we clearly are a niche player and a unique entity," he said.

They certainly are the only basketball team out there where a good laugh is the goal. While the players come up with the some of the ideas, most of the laughs have been professionally crafted.

"Our new routines are written for us by comedy writers out of Hollywood," Jackson said. "They write for Comedy Central, and they are supplying us with gags and new ideas all the time."

Getting the right players isn't all that tough, considering that the Globetrotters offer a healthy paycheck to go with the frequent flyer miles.

"There's only one league that pays more than we do and that's the NBA -- and that's like crazy money right there -- and I wouldn't hold any player back that had a chance to hit the lottery and call the NBA. Our salary ranges from $1,000 to $10,000 a week and we will have our first $1 million player in the next year or so."

Finding the right players to lose against the Globetrotters is not as hard as you would think. The New York Nationals are as strong as they ever have been.

"It's gotta be a tough life to be out there every night playing and our guys are so strong and they are being eaten every night," Jackson said. "But when I talk to the players that are on that team, they tell me that where could they go and travel the world, not having to worry about the pressures of winning and losing necessarily, play a game that they enjoy and also revel in the popularity of the Harlem Globetrotters."

The Globetrotters are back in the mainstream of American sports and entertainment. The troupe has a cameo in Adam Sandler's latest movie, "Little Nicky," which opened Friday. They also are the subject of a future Disney Broadway musical called "Hoopz" with music by Jazz artist Brandford Marsalis and contributions by Reggie Gaines and Savion Glover of Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk. A Globetrotters movie with Columbia Pictures also is in the works.

Yes, the Globetrotters lost Monday night, but in a way, their comeback into the serious game of basketball is a big victory for the team's past.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for, can be reached at
Michigan State ends Globetrotters' 1,270-game streak Bring on the Generals

 Jason Richardson slams home the rebound for the Spartans.
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 Charlie Bell makes the steal and dishes to Zach Randolph for the layup.
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 Alex Sanders misses a dunk, but recovers for the layup.
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